Access to park no longer on the fence

The Baltimore Sun

With help from the city Department of Recreation and Parks, the art student whose golden fence sealed off Mount Vernon Place from the public reopened all four sections of the park yesterday after reinforcing the structure.

High winds forced Maryland Institute College of Art student Lee B. Freeman to cancel plans to open the park Thursday, when parts of the chain-link fence -- weakened by the removal of one section in each of the park's squares -- blew down, chipping off two pieces of a marble baluster.

Freeman's decision to reopen the park, strongly recommended to him by MICA faculty, was made in light of heavy public opposition. The fence was originally to remain in place until March 29.

MICA officials called the damage caused by the falling fence minor and said the school would be responsible for replacing or repairing the baluster, in the stairwell at the northern end of the park's southern quadrant.

The art school, which is sponsoring the three-month-long exhibit, said the marble cap of the baluster was not secured, but rather was resting atop the baluster. When the fence fell on it, the cap of the baluster fell to the ground and chipped.

Terry Drayman-Weisser, director of conservation for the Walters Art Museum, who was called by the students to look at the damage, described it as "a very, very minor thing. There are many instances in the past of those being damaged. There have even been cars driven into it knocking out whole sections. In the scope of things, it's just a little chipped area."

George Ciscle, one of two MICA faculty members whose classes are putting together the 10-work outdoor exhibit, called Beyond the Compass, Beyond the Square, said that after Freeman began removing one section of fence in each quadrant of the park Thursday, high winds whipped up, compromising the stability of the remaining fence.

Amid the winds, the students resealed three quadrants of the park and took down most of the fence in the southern square.

"We talked with Parks and Recreation this morning and they really felt we needed to resolve the issue and keep the fence stable and safe," Ciscle said. "Their crews and experts have been helping and advising us."

Ciscle and Freeman said the fence would be reinforced with supports "by the end of the day," and that each square would have an opening allowing public access this weekend.

Possible damage to the park, and who would be liable for it, were among the issues raised by the Mount Vernon-Belvedere Association (MVBA), which has said the exhibit in Mount Vernon Place, a National Historic Landmark District, was approved without proper scrutiny.

E-mails related to the approval process, obtained by The Sun, show that on Feb. 4 the city Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation (CHAP) acknowledged receiving Ciscle's responses to the MVBA's concerns.

"We believe that you and the exhibition team have addressed the concerns raised by [MVBA's] questions. Have they received a copy of the responses? If not, please forward a copy to them. We look forward to meeting with you February 12th. After you have a chance to brief us on the exhibit modifications, we will be prepared to issue the 'Notice to Proceed' approval."

The e-mail was written by Kathleen G. Kotarba, division chief at CHAP. Kotarba has not returned repeated calls from The Sun.

After receiving Ciscle's responses, MVBA then sent another e-mail to both Ciscle and Kotarba, saying important issues remained unresolved, including the duration of the exhibit, plans to put garments on the park's historical bronze statues and concerns over liability and insurance coverage.

In an e-mail this week to Ciscle, MVBA vice president R. Paul Warren reiterated that the MVBA, while not opposing the exhibit, still has concerns.

"Frankly," he wrote, "we had depended on CHAP to do a much better job of due diligence and addressing our concerns. As feared, this project is setting precedent for use of Mount Vernon Place that we do not want to see repeated."

Sun reporter Abigail Tucker contributed to this article.

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